The amazing power of crazy envelopes in direct mail fundraising

Unclemaynardttdmk

Direct mail fundraisers struggle and sweat over the letter, working to make it persuasive and motivating. In many conversations about direct mail fundraising, it is as if the letter is the only thing that really matters.

A have a slightly disturbing secret to tell you. The letter is only marginally important to success in direct mail fundraising. There are two elements that have more impact on success than the letter: The offer (which should live in every element of the piece) and the outer envelope. And the envelope is probably the more important of the two.

Repeated testing shows that if you want to improve a piece of direct mail, improve the outer envelope.

That can mean a lot of things, but one of the most impactful things you can do is the manufacture of the envelope itself.

In short: The stranger the envelope, the better.

Are are some crazy envelopes from Uncle Maynard’s Mail:

MSKcrazyenv

This is the back of an envelope form Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center. That wavy red line is the envelope flap. To get that means they had to specially manufacture the envelope, a modest increase in cost. (Though I’m guessing that envelope is custom-made anyway, so the wavy flap doesn’t add any extra cost.)

A wavy flap is just plain odd. And that’s the magic. It grabs your attention — maybe just for a fraction of a second — which is that much more time spent with it.

CAREcrazyenv

It’s hard to tell from this scan, but this envelope from CARE is made from a heavy stock, and includes a texture. It calls to mind in a tactile way the burlap rice bag that it looks like. That’s the “logic” of it. But more important is the oddness of it. Among the envelopes in the donor’s mailbox that day, there are probably none other like it. It stands out and calls for attention. Win.

DAVcrazyenvFront

This is the return envelope from DAV. Notice that it is upside down. Crazy! It looks like an error. How utterly brilliant. You could do this with any envelope and reap the rewards of the weirdness.

Providencecrazyenv

This is from Providence O’Christmas Trees, a series of fundraising events in Seattle for Providence Senior and Community Services.

The envelope is printed on vellum paper, and is printed with a red foil ink. Expensive? Oh yes. Unusual? But of course! This envelope won’t get lost in the crowded mailbox.

Cost is always an issue when you’re making your envelope weird. But it’s worth looking for ways to make that envelope unusual. Because it doesn’t matter how brilliant your letter is if nobody opens the envelope to read it.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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